The Importance of Birthright Citizenship in the U.S.

President Trump announced today that he plans to end the Constitutional guarantee of citizenship by birth in the U.S. via an executive order.

Apart from the questionable legality of such an action, which will certainly be challenged in the courts, it is not too soon to reflect on the importance of birthright citizenship in the U.S.   Without it, many people born in the U.S would be stateless, and would be legally treated as an “underclass” in our society.    Birthright citizenship gives children of immigrants an automatic stake and true legal “belonging” in this country.   As the Cato Institute‘s Alex Nowrasteh wrote in The Federalist,

the Fourteenth Amendment…..should be defended because of how well it has aided immigrant assimilation in the United States”.

We should also be mindful, as noted in this essay published to mark the 80th anniversary of the Nuremberg laws, that

the denial of citizenship has increasingly become a weapon, used to vilify and harass designated targeted groups as “alien” to the nation.

For a detailed review of the history and the legal meaning of the 14th Amendment’s citizenship by birth in the U.S. language, read this 2006 journal article by James C. Ho, now a judge on the Fifth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals.

The President is truly challenging us to ponder who we are as a nation, and who we want to be.  MeBIC will always stand on the side of supporting birthright citizenship.


Get the Facts: Backgrounder on the Southern Border

As the Administration sends thousands of troops to the southern border and considers issuing an executive order to close the border to Central Americans, it’s important to understand who is coming the southern border and why.

This article by the Director of the Mexico Security Initiative at University of Texas in Austin provides cogent background about the conditions producing the wave of immigrants arriving at our southern border during the past spring and summer that prompted the administration’s harsh family separations response.  While the article looks at that prior wave of immigrants, the conditions described in it apply equally to the most recent “caravan” and the people who are part of it.

Contrary to the administration’s assertions, the nation is not experiencing a national security “invasion” on our southern border.    Indeed,  apprehensions on the southern border in FY 2018 were only 24% of the high of over 1.6 million apprehensions in FY 2000.  The 396,579 apprehensions in FY 2018 were in line with the number of annual apprehensions each year since FY 2010, which in turn were the lowest numbers since the early 1970s.

In addition, under both U.S. and international law, the U.S. must allow those seeking asylum the opportunity to apply for it, whether they enter at or between border posts.  Our nation can handle large numbers of asylum claims if it funds and staffs the asylum offices and immigration courts adequately.   For example, from 1983 through 1987, when civil wars were raging in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, over a million individuals were apprehended at the Southern border each year.   Our nation was able to  process their claims in the immigration courts without the need to militarize the border or to threaten to close to border to asylum seekers (which will lead to immediate legal challenges).

Let’s not exaggerate either the size or the impact of the current caravan and other waves of Central Americans fleeing the Northern Triangle countries.  Our nation can vet them and give them due process while keeping our  values intact, as has been done many times before.

All of Us Must Combat Anti-Immigrant Hate

At MeBIC, we join all those who are horrified by and grieve the slaughter of 11 innocent people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg on October 27, 2018. The shootings were a shocking, but perhaps also a sadly unsurprising event following a sharp increase in anti-Semitic incidents since 2016.

But this shooting was not just about one man’s hatred of Jews.   Reports are that the assailant directed special ire on social media towards the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), one of nine organizations nationwide that assist with resettlement of refugees. On the morning of the shooting, he posted “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

Unfortunately, many political leaders in the U.S. both at the federal and state levels are trying to drum up anti-immigrant sentiment to score political points through lies.   Refugees are not terrorists (any more than all white males in the U.S. are murderous anti-Semites because one man murdered eleven Jews). Mexicans are not all drug dealers and rapists.   Mothers and children and young people fleeing gang violence in Central American are not all MS-13 gang members. There is no “invasion” at the Southern Border in comparison to other years that justifies separating or detaining families, or closing our border to asylum seekers. (The number of apprehensions in FY 2018 were relatively consistent with the previous five years, and far below the high of 1.6 million apprehensions in FY 2000).

It is urgent that we speak out against hate, lies, and misinformation.   To do so, though, we need to be informed and be able to sort fact from fiction.

At MeBIC, through our website and e-newsletter, we will do our best to provide you with facts and to point you to resources and data to increase your knowledge about immigration law and policy.   Armed with accurate information and context, you’ll be better equipped to stand up and speak out to correct myths and lies before they create unnecessary fear, or, as we have just seen, far, far worse.


Government Report on “Zero Tolerance” at Southern Border

UPDATE:   On October 25, 2018, in the the lawsuit challenging the administration’s family separations policy, the government filed an update indicating that 264 children remain separated from their parents, including 14 newly identified children.  The court filing underscores the chaos that the report below found, in terms of how the government handled tracking children that it forcibly took from their parents.

The Trump administration is also reportedly considering piloting a new “binary choice” proposal for families with children who arrive seeking asylum. Since under the Flores settlement agreement the government cannot legally detain children beyond 20 days, the program would force parents to choose between staying with their children in detention centers, or being separated from their children so their children are not detained.   But as noted in a September 2018 Congressional Research Service report to Congress, the legality of a “binary choice” proposal is doubtful.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has published a report about DHS’s implementation of the “Zero Tolerance” policy.   Begun in May 2018 per order of the Attorney General, that policy resulted in over 2600 children being taken away from their parents at the southern border, some of whom are still waiting to be reunited with their parents.

The report concludes that DHS was not adequately prepared to carry out the Zero Tolerance policy.

Problems included:

– Encouraging people to apply for entry at border posts, but then making people wait for days or turning them away, likely prompting unauthorized border crossings;

– Separating children who were too young (pre-verbal) to provide information about their parents and not photographing them or identifying them with ID bracelets or other identifiers so that they could be later matched with their parent(s).

– Having inadequate database integration to accurately track the number of separated children in custody, to catalogue and match parents and children, or to know where children were sent after being taken from their parents, so that parents would be able to find their children and government officials would be able to reunite them.  OIG could find no evidence of the “central database” that the government claimed existed.

– Holding children in short term facilities inadequate for children, for longer than the 72-hour maximum allowed.

– Providing parents with inaccurate or inconsistent information so that parents often did not understand that their children were being taken from them, or where their children were and how to contact them or get them back.

Following public outcry, in June 2018, President Trump issued an executive order forcing DHS to stop separating families, leading DHS to resume releasing them.  Typically they would be required to wear electronic ankle bracelets, pay a bond, or comply with other detention alternatives.  (Under the terms of the 1997 Flores settlement, minors cannot by detained by DHS for than 20 days, and when held should be in non-secure, state-licensed settings for minors.)

Unfortunately, the administration is now planning to eviscerate the Flores settlement in a proposed rule that would allow indefinite detention of minors, together with their parents.   The public comment period on the proposed rule closes on November 6, 2018.




Immigrants Founded 55% of U.S.’s Billion-Dollar Start-ups

A column in Forbes reports on a study of 91 of the nation’s  start-up companies valued at over $1 billion as of October 2018 (think Uber, Avant, SpaceX, etc.) which found that 50 of them (55%) of them have at least one immigrant founder.

Twenty-two percent of these companies were founded by individuals who came to the U.S. as international students, with six of them founded by former refugees.  The immigrant-founded businesses have a collective value of $248 billion, and have created an average of 1200 jobs per company.

The column goes on to highlight troubling policy directions from the current administration that raise barriers  to or discourage international graduate students and high tech professionals from coming to and staying in the U.S.  In addition, drastic cuts to refugee admissions, and a proposed rule that, if enacted, would slash immediate family immigration, would deprive the nation of the new energy that immigrants of all types bring to the U.S.

We should think long and hard about whether the administration’s moves to restrict immigration of all kinds, from foreign professionals, to refugees, immediate family immigrants, and asylum seekers at the southern border, represent our nation’s values, or even, our economic interests.

Per Country Visa Limits Lead to U.S. Loss of Foreign STEM Talent

A new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research examines the impact of per country visa limits on the U.S.’s ability to attract and retain PhD STEM graduates from China and India.

U.S. law limits the number of people who can immigrate from a single country to the U.S. each year.   If the number of visa applications exceeds the limit, a wait list develops.   The two most populous countries of the world have exceeded the numerical limit for years, resulting in a continually growing wait list for highly educated and skilled workers in STEM professions from China and India.    To illustrate, Chinese citizens with advanced degrees who will reach the top of the waiting list and be eligible to finally immigrate in November, 2018 began their immigration process before June 15, 2015.  Similarly situated Indian citizens began their immigration process before May 22, 2009, over nine years ago.

The NBER working paper, The Impact of Permanent Residency Delays for STEM PhDs: Who Leaves and Why, examines the drop in the number of Chinese and Indian PhD graduates from U.S. graduate schools who stay in the U.S. to work upon completion of their studies, and finds that the longer the delay in getting residency, the more the U.S. retention rate for these graduates declines.    As the abstract of the working paper notes

We conclude that per-country limits play a significant role in constraining the supply of highly skilled STEM workers in the US economy.

This has economic repercussions since native U.S. citizens are underrepresented in graduate level STEM studies, but STEM fields play a critical role in U.S. economic growth.   In addition, a Cato Institute analysis notes that Chinese and Indian STEM advanced degree professionals are high wage earners, and our economy loses their individual tax and spending contributions as well.

Another impending casualty of the wait list are the spouses of these individuals.  As we have highlighted previously, under an Obama-era rule, many of these individuals’ spouses now have work authorization.   The Trump Administration has signaled its intent to revoke that rule, and with it, their ability to be productive and contribute while they wait for years with their STEM graduate spouses for available immigrant visas.   This is another factor pushing talent we need out of the U.S. to other countries with more rational immigration systems.

The current per country quotas were created in 1990.  It is high time for Congress to revisit and reform or eliminate them.



Primers to Learn the Basics about Refugees and Immigrants in the U.S.

Immigration is in the news every day, it seems, not to mention pervading social media.  But for those whose work does not involve daily contact with immigration law and policy, understanding context and sorting fact from fiction in order to understand what is happening currently can be a challenge.

Two resources are available to provide baseline information to help you parse what you read and hear about refugees, immigrants, and immigration to the U.S., as well as about current U.S. policies on these issues.

The Pew Research Center has developed a series of five mini-lessons on past and current immigration data and policies, delivered to your in-box each day.  Each email takes only a couple of minutes to read.  You can learn more about the lessons here.

The Urban Institute issued Bringing Evidence to the Refugee Integration Debate, which includes background information on who refugees are, how they get to the U.S., recent policy changes under the Trump Administration, and information about their social and economic integration into and contributions to U.S. communities and the economy.   You can find the report here.

H-2B Visas for First Half of FY2019 – Update

As of October 15, 2018,  over half of the available 33,000 H-2B non-agricultural seasonal work visas for the first half of FY 2019 (Oct. 1, 2018-March 30, 2019) have been allocated.  USCIS began accepting petitions for the first half of FY 2019 in July, 2018.

H-2B visas are used particularly in Maine’s seasonal hospitality sector, but the number of visas is chronically inadequate. A 15,000 bump in the number of available H-2B visas approved by Congress to respond to the shortage of H-2B visas during  FY 2018 expired on September 30, 2018.  Last year, H-2B visas for winter season jobs were exhausted by mid-November.   Demand this year appears to be lower, likely due to employers deciding not to use the program after successive years of being unable to rely on it with its persistent shortages of visas.

Maine employers who want details about which workers are cap-exempt,  or who want to check the number of H-2B visa petitions already accepted that count towards the 33,000 visa cap for the first half of FY 2019  can check here.

Book List: 60th Anniversary Edition of JFK’s “A Nation of Immigrants”

As immigration continues to be a flashpoint political issue, this updated edition of John F. Kennedy’s A Nation of Immigrants released on the 60th anniversary of its initial publication, is a timely read despite the intervening years.

This new edition has been updated to include information on current immigration policies, according to publisher Harper Collins.

Why read this now?  Here’s one reader’s review:

(T)hough some of his numbers are out of date, the themes, subject, and his pragmatic arguments are timeless. I found myself reading and smiling with disbelief with how relevant this whole book is and how beautifully entwined he mixes history with compassion and historical backing. When I read it I was impressed with how never ending and cyclical the immigration debate really is. The only thing that seems to change is what nationality or group is coming here and how people react to them. I highly recommend any and all people interested in this subject to read this book, which shouldn’t take more than a few hours. I admire Kennedy a great deal and am grateful I bought and read this small treasure. While I was reading it I often found myself imagining and wishing he were across from me, coffee in hand, to discuss todays problems and his views on how to solve them.

Book List: “The Gift of Global Talent: How Migration Shapes Business, Economy & Society”

Harvard Business School professor William Kerr has recently published The Gift of Global Talent: How Migration Shapes Business, Economy & Society.

An abstract of the book from Professor Kerr’s HBS faculty page states:

The global race for talent is on, with countries and businesses competing for the best and brightest. Foreign talent has transformed U.S. science and engineering, reshaped the economy, and influenced society at large. But America is bogged down in thorny debates on immigration policy, and the world around the United States is rapidly catching up, especially China and India. The future is uncertain, and the global talent puzzle deserves close examination. This book combines insights and lessons from business practice, government policy, and individual decision-making to give voice to data and ideas that should drive the next wave of policy and business practice.

At the opposite end from the academic spectrum, an reviewer states:

In the Gift of Global Talent, William Kerr unpacks the topic of high-skilled immigration in highly readable prose, and clarifies an otherwise murky subject. On those two counts alone, this book is a triumph. It’s also wicked fun to read.

Kerr’s book reviews how high-skilled immigration shapes top talent clusters (e.g., Boston, San Francisco), spurs entrepreneurship and innovation, and spreads new ideas to businesses and societies around the globe. He also surveys the many regulations and debates that surround high-skilled immigration before concluding the book with his own set of practical advice to political and business leaders. Kerr ultimately argues that human talent is “the world’s most precious resource,” beating out “other candidates for this title, like water or oil.” Having finished the book, I’m inclined to agree.

The Gift of Global Talent is best-suited for policymakers, industry leaders, and anyone else looking to understand why high-skilled immigration matters. Kerr’s approach is refreshingly level-headed and happily leaves out the many partisan platitudes that plague discussions about immigration. Instead, Kerr has compiled a series of original and persuasive arguments that should reshape the contours of the immigration discussion itself.

I strongly recommend The Gift of Global Talent to anyone who wants an enjoyable, smart book that can be finished in a single sitting. Two big thumbs up.

This may be worth adding to your reading list.